Winter Weather Brings Seasonal Challenges for Pet Owners

How to keep your dog and cat safe in cold, snow and during the holidays

Cold weather may have taken a while to arrive, but the calendar doesn’t lie. And pet owners should take special precautious as winter gets under way.

Dr. Donna Alexander, administrator of the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control, has tips for pet should to keep in mind during the cold weather season and the upcoming holidays.

“It’s important for pet owners to remember that they should adjust their pets’ normal routine,” Dr. Alexander said. “Prolonged exposure to cold, snow and ice can be as dangerous for dogs and cats as it is for humans.”

Recommendations for pet owners:

  • Bring all pets indoors: All dogs and cats, even if they are acclimated to outdoor living, must be brought indoors during sub-zero weather. As the responsible caregiver of a pet, you should provide an indoor heated shelter for your animal.

  • Salt and ice: Both salt and ice can irritate your dog’s footpads. If your dog will tolerate them, foot coverings are advised. If your dog will not tolerate foot coverings, avoid the salt when possible and wash the dog’s paws with warm water when you return home from walks.

  • Frostbite: Dogs and cats may have fur coats but they also have exposed areas that are susceptible to frostbite. Limit their time outdoors for waste elimination only. Walks should not exceed 10 minutes in sub-zero temperatures. Check their pads when you get home and wash with warm (not hot) moist towels. If you suspect frostbite on any extremity, including the nose or the tips of the ears, contact your veterinarian.

  • Properly secure potentially poisonous material, such as antifreeze: Antifreeze is extremely toxic to all living creatures. Keep antifreeze bottles out of the reach of animals and clean up all antifreeze spills immediately.

  • Medical care: Pet owners should have an established doctor-patient-client relationship with a veterinarian close to home and establish an emergency protocol. If your pet is taking prescription medication, make sure you have adequate amounts in case of closures due to weather

      Recommendations regarding wild and feral animals:

  • Honk before starting your car: Feral cats and wild animals will seek refuge and warmth wherever they can. A car’s engine, for example, may provide a warm spot to “hole up” in sub-zero conditions. Drivers should honk their vehicle’s horn before starting the ignition to give a wakeup call to any critter that may be hiding.

  • Call officials if a wild animal enters your home: If an animal has chosen your attic, your garage or even space under a deck as refuge, close off access to the rest of the house and contact local officials for their removal.

Special holiday tips:

  • No treats from the table: There are many food items consumed by humans that may prove toxic to animals. Never feed your pet chocolate, or stuffing containing sage, grapes or raisins.

  • Keep Christmas decorations safe: Tinsel and poinsettias can be toxic. If you are able, elevate your Christmas decorations above the grasp of your pet or surround your tree with animal barricade such as child-proof fencing.

  • Provide a safe haven for pets: Create a quiet spot for your pets where they can get away from the seasonal merriment. Acclimate them to their safe haven by placing familiar smells (blankets, pillows) or toys in the area you have designated. When guests arrive, make sure they are aware that this “pet secure” area should not be disturbed.

  • Display rabies tags on collars and secure egress: Dogs and cats can become bewildered by the increase number of holiday guests and often try to escape. Remind your guests to close doors when entering or leaving and to secure gates. Make sure that your animal is wearing identification in case of escape.


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